Researchers from the Kolling Institute have led an international study investigating why some people spontaneously recover from whiplash following a motor vehicle collision, while others don’t.
Their work has uncovered new evidence indicating it may relate to the health of muscles and stress.
More than 140 people were recruited to the longitudinal study, which involved research teams from the United States, Canada, and Australia.
The study ran for more than five years, with participants undergoing a series of ultra-high resolution MRIs of the spine and neck.
Researchers analysed pain, psychological distress, as well as physiological measurements of muscle fat in the neck.
Following the extensive analysis, researchers found higher neck muscle fat infiltration and distress may be a risk factor for whiplash related injury, although it was unclear whether this was a pre-existing condition or the result of the trauma.
Lead researcher Professor Jim Elliott, Academic Director of the Kolling Institute said it’s known that higher levels of stress can have a negative effect on overall health and wellbeing, but in particular, the health and functioning of our skeletal muscles.
“This study provided more evidence that those reporting higher levels of post-traumatic distress had higher levels of muscle fat infiltration,” he said.
“Future work needs to determine if these conditions were present before the injury, and whether pre-traumatic life stress is accompanied by poor muscle health and function.”
Jim said the study represented an important body of work with 1.3 million Australians alone experiencing chronic whiplash associated disorder.